AND SUCH GREAT NAMES AS THESE
By Allen Makepeace (Johnnie Johnson)
Published by MATADOR
The book is available from bookshops for £7.99.
E-book/Kindle version of ‘And Such Great Names As These‘
… And after the rifle fire and the sudden angry shriek of rooks, there was silence. They all stood still as if contemplating for the first time what it was they had been told to do. One of the soldiers, Diggle, bent over and retched violently for several minutes though only the palest, thinnest, slowest dribble of vomit came and dripped onto his boot …
The war with its horrifying, endless slaughter on the Western Front, is the background but it is in a north-east seaport where the action principally unfolds. Dolly Weston, whose husband has been reported missing, falls in love with a recuperating army officer.
… ‘For instance,’ the Lieutenant went on, sucking at a blade of grass, ‘your work is as hard as soldiering. Don’t worry, I’ve seen you at work.’
Before she could reply, he had sat up and seized both of her hands and although she tried to pull them away, his grip was too strong. Now her face was pink with embarrassment and she turned to Joshua who was just sitting down beside them. It was as though she feared he would disapprove of such behaviour. She pulled her hands more roughly than she needed to release them from the Lieutenant’s grasp.
‘I’m not going to hurt them,’ he laughed. ‘But look at them.’
She looked at her hands. Joshua looked at them too. They were like his mother’s for just like his mother Mrs. Weston had started work at thirteen. Though not at the same house. Not even in the same part of the country. But kitchen maids both of them. Lowest of the low in large residences. These days Mrs. Weston cleaned a day here, half a day there. Different houses nearly every day. His mother did the same, when she was well. Every day of the week they had both somewhere to go, somewhere to clean. Most days they blackleaded other people’s stoves and grates, washed front paths, whitened steps, polished door brasses, swilled stone-flagged larders, scrubbed kitchen benches. They made beds, polished chairs, tables, sideboards. And now sitting on Claydon Hills Joshua looked at Mrs. Weston’s fingers, at the cracked skin, the immoveable grime and grease. In winter she would have chilblains. His mother always did …
And then onto the scene comes a deserter, a soldier previously decorated for bravery, and unhealed wounds from a bitter past are reopened.
Above all and central to a riveting plot, there is 10-year-old Joshua Slater, captive to the empty jingoism of his schoolteacher’s tales of heroes.
… But today it was the talks entitled ‘The Western Front’. Even those boys and girls who had lost fathers and brothers ought to feel glad to give such a talk, Mr. Pybus had assured the class. It would prove that English boys and girls had the ability to stick it out no matter what the odds, that English boys and girls had the spirit of sacrifice …
Through small-town bigotry and prejudice, the motherless Joshua is led into the world of three adults whom he comes to admire and love but who are destined to be driven apart.